Medical Marijuana: Is it High Time for PA?

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

Medical marijuana legislation has been popping up all over the country since 1996 when California first legalized the medical use of cannabis. To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and that number may be rising to 24 with the recent legislation coming out of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.In May 2015, the PA Senate passed Senate Bill 3 (SB 3) which allowed for the medical use of marijuana under certain restrictions here in PA. On March 16, 2016, the House of Representatives passed an amended version of SB 3. In order for the bill to become law, both the House and the Senate must pass the same version of the bill and the governor must sign the bill into law. Gov. Tom Wolf has already promised his signature; however, PA is not yet in the clear for medical marijuana. If the Senate chooses to make any changes to the bill, it will be sent back to the House for another vote. Many are worried about the potential of this destroying the bill or delaying it indefinitely, especially since the House first took a little less than a year to approve the bill. Some politicians suggest it would be better for the Senate to simply pass the bill as is and work out the small legislative issues through the couple of years it will take to fully implement the legislation as opposed to trying to solve all the problems in the original bill now. What is SB 3? The bill allows for patients with qualifying conditions to use and safely access medical cannabis with a physician’s recommendation. Qualifying conditions include cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, autism, seizure disorders, PTSD, intractable pain for which conventional therapies or opiates have been ineffective, and a few others. The legislation also allows for up to 25 growers and processors to produce medical cannabis, with the qualification that they must all be licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The cannabis grown in these facilities can be sold in up to 50 licensed dispensaries, all of which will be allowed to have up to three locations, allowing for a maximum of 150 dispensary locations state-wide. There are also limitations and restrictions placed on these dispensaries. They will only be allowed to sell cannabis in the form of pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, tinctures, liquid, and non-whole plant forms for use through vaporization. No dispensaries will be allowed to sell edibles or marijuana for smoking. Overall, SB 3 would allow for highly regulated forms of medical marijuana to be accessed by those who can medically benefit from its effects. Is SB 3 the right move for Pennsylvania? If SB 3 is passed, in the eyes of the federal government marijuana is still considered a controlled substance and dangerous drug under the Controlled Substance Act. This means that all marijuana use, medical or otherwise, is still illegal federally, and the Department of Justice is committed to enforcing the Controlled Substance Act regardless of state laws. While increased pressure from the states on the federal government may soon change this policy, it remains a fact that Pennsylvania is poised to become the 24th state to legalize something which is still illegal under federal law. If you have questions about how this new law could affect you or those you love, contact Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. for legal counsel from the firm’s experienced attorneys in northeast Pennsylvania.